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I'm pretty sure I took a physics class in high school, but I had a severe case of "senioritis" at the time (basically, once I had applied to colleges, I had little motivation for school subjects that didn't seem relevant to my daily life, which consisted of spending as much time as possible with my friends, listening to Prince, and watching movies before we all left for college in different states) which made it difficult for me to care about concepts like vectors. (At least, I think vectors were something we studied in that class. Is that physics?) Anyway, the one concept I do remember learning about in physics class is inertia. In plain language, inertia is the theory (or concept... or maybe it's a law...) that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

It sounds simple and yet I think it is rather profound. Not only is it practically relevant almost every day of my life, but it was also probably my first opportunity to practice "both/and thinking" (more on that in a future post, but it's basically the practice of holding two apparently opposite ideas/thoughts/beliefs to be true at the same time).

Let me give an example of inertia. Let's say, hypothetically, that I'm driving a 1971 VW bus up the coast of California, by myself, on narrow mountain roads in the days before I owned a cell phone. And maybe I stop at a rest stop (on the side of one of those narrow mountain roads) to use the rest room and I discover when I get back in the bus that it won't start (I also discover that the pay phone at the rest stop doesn't work - because I'm a late adopter and most other people did have cell phones and so pay phones were not being maintained anymore - so I'm on my own to handle this little hiccup). Luckily, the VW bus has a manual transmission and I know how to bump-start a manual transmission, so I recruit some kind people from the rest step to help me push the bus from its stopped position, to get it moving fast enough to bump-start it.

When the bus is stopped, it wants to stay stopped and that initial effort of getting it to transition from stillness to movement is quite challenging. Good grief, this bus is heavy! The bus is resisting our attempts to move it (because of inertia). And then the tires begin to rotate a fraction of an inch and then they turn an entire revolution and then they are rolling and before I know it, good grief, this bus is moving fast! (Because of inertia.) And I have to run to keep up, jumping into the driver's seat, putting it into gear and popping the clutch to get it started, waving my thanks to my helpers before I run out of parking lot and find myself back on the narrow mountain road.

And the thing that blows my mind is that both the heaviness when it was stopped in the parking lot and the speed when it started moving are both the same force (or theory... or concept... or law) - inertia. These two things - the resistance to moving at all and the quickly building momentum - are diametrically opposed and yet they are the same thing.

So what does this have to do with resilience? For me, resilience is the result of hundreds (or maybe thousands) of micro-practices that I choose (or don't choose) every week, every day, every hour, or every minute. And each of those micro-practices has inertia, in both of its forms. So any time I'm not doing a practice, it feels hard (so hard!) to start doing it (an object at rest tends to stay at rest), even if I've done it many times before and I know I will be glad I did it. And, usually, any time I am doing a practice, I get caught up in the momentum of the practice and I usually keep practicing longer or more often than I originally planned (an object in motion tends to stay in motion).

Honestly, for me, the second form of inertia doesn't pose many challenges for my life. The inertia of doing practices rarely interrupts other things I want to do with my time. It's the first form of inertial that tends to plague me a bit. For instance, even when I know that I always (like 100% of the time, not just most of the time) feel good after practicing yoga, it still feels like a huge effort to get myself to my yoga mat (which is right there in my 800 square foot home, so it's not like it's some kind of epic journey). And even when I know that I always feel better when I go to bed before 10:00 at night, it still feels almost impossible to get up from the living room couch to (walk fifteen feet to) go to bed most nights.

And this is where I usually trick myself, much like Bugs Bunny used to trick Elmer Fudd (and here's another both/and moment - I am both as wily as Bugs and as gullible as Elmer) to nudge myself past the first type of inertia and into the second type of inertia. I tell myself I don't have to practice yoga today, I only have roll out my mat and sit on it. Even I can do that. So I do. And then, once I nudge past the first inertia and I'm on top of my mat, I find the second inertia has already taken over and I am doing my practice. Or I tell myself I don't have to go to bed right now, I just have to get up and brush my teeth. And again, usually once I'm on my feet and my teeth are brushed, I find it's just as easy to continue into my bedroom.

And, much like Elmer Fudd, I do not ever seem to learn from being tricked. The same tricks fool me again and again (I choose to view this as a strength). I trick myself at least once a day, usually more: I don't have to go out for a walk/run, I just have to put on my shoes. I don't have to start working yet, I just have to turn on my computer. I don't have to really meditate, I can just sit with my eyes closed for a minute.

The way inertia plays out in my practices is that once I do start doing practices on a daily basis (whether it's yoga, mediation, flossing my teeth, eating vegetables, exercising, taking supplements, using my bright light lamp, etc.), it just becomes a thing I do, rather than a thing I have to get myself to do. Like the resilience bus is already in motion and so I don't need to bump start it every day. But what I also notice is that once I skip a day (usually because it's the weekend and everyone deserves a break over the weekend, right?) it feels much harder to start up again. "I'll start on Monday" becomes, "or maybe Tuesday." And that's when it's time to call in Bugs to work his magic.

After many years of tricking myself this way, it has sort of become its own resilience practice, in the sense that it is a micro-practice I know I can use to get myself from one from of inertia to the other. I now have enough experience with the practice that I trust that I am strong enough to get that resilience bus back into motion. I have developed more faith in myself and my micro-practices (yes, even the practice of self-trickery), which fuels my resilience and increases its momentum.

And all of that is thanks to my frenemy, inertia.

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Earlier this week I asked my friend to read my first blog post and give me feedback because I was concerned that I had crossed the line from expressing: "I feel so grateful for my resilience practices!" to expressing: "I feel judgmental of people who don't use resilience practices." I really did not intend any judgment, but I know that intention and impact don't always align and it's not easy for me to distill all the nuances of my mind and heart into a succinct written expression. So I wanted someone else's perspective on what I was communicating in the post because my own perspective is colored by the fact that I already know what I mean. My friend offered some positive feedback about the post and then said, gently and lovingly, that yes I had crossed the line as I had feared. One point he made was that getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night isn't always possible for people, especially if they have insomnia.

As a recovering perfectionist, having my worst fear confirmed about my very first public piece of writing triggered a tidal wave of shame. Wow, what a great opportunity to call on my resilience practices! Over the course of the day, I pulled them out of my "resilience toolbox" and put them into action: meditating, exercising, journaling, breathing, noticing the physical sensations I was experiencing, visualizing the shame leaving my body, and more. I felt acutely uncomfortable all day long. None of my various practices made a noticeable difference in the tightness in my chest and throat or in the mild nausea in my belly.

Eventually, I remembered one of my very favorite resilience practices, which is to remind myself of that: "It's uncomfortable, but it's not a problem," and I stopped focusing on trying to get rid of the uncomfortable sensations and instead focused on reminding myself that they would not last forever and that I could tolerate the discomfort and it would not actually harm me. I also watched a few episodes of 30 Rock in the evening, knowing that laughter is a helpful resilience practice for me and that focusing my attention on a funny TV show would bring some respite from the discomfort for a while. I felt tired from carrying around a backpack full of shame all day and I knew my alter-ego, Liz Lemon, would provide me with some much-needed emotional rest.

By the time I went to bed, the tightness in my chest and pressure in my throat had eased somewhat but they were still present. I was hoping that a good night of sleep would help them to ease further. And perhaps it would have, but I didn't get a good night of sleep. Instead, I woke in the wee hours of the night from an intense dream and it took me a long time to fall back to sleep. And then I woke again before 5:00 and couldn't get back to sleep after that. So my intended 7-8 hours of sleep ended up being more like a long nap and then a short nap.

Today I feel tired. I feel a bit unmotivated to engage in work activities. The grey, rainy, Seattle weather feels extra grey and rainy to me today. I'm still noticing a heaviness in my chest and a bit of tightness in my throat. I'm still aware of the echoes of shame in my system and it feels uncomfortable.

And I still feel generally content. I know that in the big picture, I am well. And I know that I am bigger than this discomfort. I know that, at my core, I am whole and unstruck. I know that I have survived more painful experiences than this and that I will get through this one too and there will be a time when I don't even remember this discomfort (well, unless I reread this post).

When I talk about contentment and equanimity, I don't mean to imply that there are no moments of struggle or anxiety or stress or discomfort. All of those things are part of being a human being, moving through a life. And I am a human being, moving through my life, experiencing ups and downs, pain and pleasure, excitement and boredom, connection and isolation, joy and sorrow, calm and anxiety. When I say that I am generally content, I mean that I have practices that help me to manage the challenges of my life without feeling overwhelmed and undone by them. When I talk about equanimity, I mean that I have developed (through many years of experimentation) the practice of pulling back my perspective to take in all of the positive, negative, and neutral aspects of my current life experience, so that I can view the current challenges as one part of a larger landscape rather than as the entire picture.

I love the title of Cheri Huber's book: What You Practice is What You Have. I practice resilience. I practice contentment. I practice equanimity. And sometimes I practice shame and perfectionism. That's uncomfortable, but it's not a problem.

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I've been having a lot of conversations recently, mostly over video-conference, where people share with me that they feel overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out, or are struggling with questions about the meaning and purpose in their life. (Side bar - I still vividly remember my first Skype call, when I felt like George Jetson - I talking from Seattle to my friend in Hong Kong, live on video, for free. Mind blown! Now that miracle has become mundane and sometimes even feels like a burden to have to look presentable for a video call.)

I love these people that I've been talking to and I feel compassion and empathy for the very real challenges they are experiencing. I listen and I reflect and I validate their experience and their feelings (because I don't stop being a therapist/facilitator/coach, even when I'm being a friend). And I also have an awareness during those conversations that I do not feel overwhelmed or exhausted or burnt out. I generally feel energized and content and connected to a sense of purpose in my life.

We are living in the same context of a pandemic, systemic oppression and inequity, political polarization, and serious economic challenges. These folks I've been talking to are healthy, they are living in loving and supportive family households, with stable jobs and excellent benefits. I am also healthy and have a comfortable home, although I live alone and I left my stable job a couple months before the pandemic hit, so I've been launching a new business in a recession and my social interactions have become fairly limited. So our personal lifestyle contexts are similarly privileged. And I identify as empathic and sensitive, so I can't explain the difference in my experience with the idea that I just don't feel stuff the way my friends do. If anything, I tend to feel things more intensely than most people I know.

So what's the difference? If our external situations are pretty similar and it's not a question of my own lack of emotional sensitivity, then I can only blame my sense of well-being on my resilience practices. And by "blame" I mean I don't even know how to express my gratitude for these practices that have transformed my life, from a time when I was regularly struggling with depression and anxiety, to my present experience of living from a foundation of contentment and equanimity.

I believe that context matters and I believe in taking action to influence our context when possible. What has never been more clear to me than it is at the end of 2020, is that we, as humans, have limited control over our larger external context. And we have a great deal of control over our internal response to our context. I'm not the first to have this realization (among others, Viktor Frankl lays it out quite clearly in Man's Search for Meaning) and this year isn't the first time I've had it. But I feel like a spotlight has been shining on this awareness lately, making it visible on a daily basis.

And along with feeling gratitude for my own resilience practices and the positive effect they have on my life, I am also feeling deep gratitude for the opportunity to share this resilience and well-being journey with others - in my group class series and in individual therapy and coaching sessions. Practicing these techniques with other people brings me joy and deepens my own resilience by increasing my personal accountability, learning from others, and magnifying our collective energy by engaging in the journey together.

Speaking of gratitude, one of my favorite daily resilience practices is to intentionally notice and feel grateful.  

Some of my other favorite practices are:
- physical activity (at least three times a week)
- limiting media intake (content, quantity, and timing)
- connecting with loved ones 
- sleeping 7-8 hours a night

The specific challenges in life might change, but as far as I can see, life has always been and will always be challenging. And I don't believe that there is a quick fix to the challenges and I don't have the answer to the question of life, the meaning of the universe, and everything (unless Douglas Adams was correct and it's 42. Yes, I'm a little scifi nerdy.). I do believe that we humans are amazing beings with an innate capacity for well-being. And I believe a life of contentment is possible through a commitment to practices that support resilience and well-being.

What are you practicing these days?

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